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LAST_UPDATEMon, 31 Dec 2012 11pm

Can Gerakan Recapture Penang?

Is Gerakan still relevant, especially since it has lost Penang, which was its base for nearly four decades? Can it lead the Penang Barisan Nasional (BN) to win back the state at the next general election (GE)? Will it even win any seats there?

 

.These are pressing questions that Gerakan must be asking itself. Yet when its vice-president Datuk Mah Siew Keong said last week that BN still has a good chance to recapture Penang, and that Gerakan was still the best party to lead the coalition at the next GE, it sounded like either wishful thinking or self-delusion.

Even Mah’s colleague, Datuk Dr Teng Hock Nan, doesn’t believe BN can do it. And he’s the man on the ground and the Penang Gerakan chief.

At present, of the 40 seats in the State Assembly, BN has only eleven, and they were all won in the last GE by Umno.

The MCA lost all its nine seats, the MIC lost the two it had, and Gerakan was totally crushed – it had 13 seats but lost every single one of them including that of Penang’s then Chief Minister, Tan Sri Dr Koh Tsu Koon (photo).

Earlier this month on ‘Say Sorry Day’ (Sept 6), Koh, who is still Gerakan president, said he wished he could have done more for Penang when he was head of its government.

He held that position for four terms, spanning almost 18 years, and in his final term, he lost the whole island to Pakatan Rakyat, which won by more than a two-thirds majority. Like his party, he went from head honcho to zero.

To lose so decisively after not one or two terms but four says a lot about how effective a Chief Minister he was. It was therefore amusing to hear Koh say “if I’ve not done enough, I should say sorry”. “Not enough” is an understatement after four terms of governance. How many more terms would he have needed to get it right?

And now Mah still harbours hope of BN retaking Penang?

Why would the people of Penang, who have in no uncertain terms rejected Gerakan, want to vote it back? What has it done since losing power? How has it proven to be an effective partner in the BN coalition? What waves has it created within BN itself? What strategies can it come up with to promise Penangites a better future under Gerakan?

Former Gerakan president Datuk Seri Lim Keng Yaik, current president and former Penang Chief Minister Tan Sri Dr Koh Tsu Koon and DAP Secretary-General and current Penang Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng.It has made a bit of noise here and there over some things done or said by Umno that it thought deviated from the spirit of multi-racialism, but each time it does that, it comes out sounding like a cat in a cage whining at the bulldog glaring at it through the bars.

Gerakan is in the same situation as the MCA and the MIC – all three are stunted standing next to Umno. And what’s crucial is that the electorate knows it. But while the MCA and the MIC can raise Chinese and Indian issues that appeal to some in their communities, Gerakan is out of place within an essentially race-based coalition. It is an avowedly multi-racial party, but one that voters with a multi-racial outlook have forsaken. Furthermore, its appeal to the Chinese of Penang has all but disappeared. What can it bank on now to make itself worthy?

Its desperation is highlighted by its occasional strikes against the DAP for consorting with PAS and pointing out the incongruity of their relationship, but the arrows it shoots make no dent on their targets. This is simply because many who might have been sympathetic to Gerakan before have come to accept the DAP-PAS partnership which they no longer perceive as being “unholy”.

What will be of concern now to Gerakan is whether it still has a legitimate case for holding on to the BN chairmanship in Penang.

Umno has been lobbying for it. It will likely push for more seats in Penang at the next GE concomitant with its long-held aim of getting a Malay into the Chief Minister’s office. It might argue – and quite rightly, too – that BN cannot depend on Gerakan and the MCA to deliver the goods. And as it stands, since Umno is the one with the seats, why should it not be the party that takes the chairmanship?

This will not be something the BN leadership can ignore. How it decides will indicate how much it appreciates Gerakan. Taking away this last vestige of self-respect from Gerakan would be akin to kicking the party when it’s already down and almost out, which is something you don’t do after a partnership of nearly four decades. But if the people out there who will be casting votes do not appreciate Gerakan much or feel it is still relevant, the BN leadership may be compelled to take a pragmatic approach. If it comes to that, Gerakan will have to reassess its position within BN.

But what can it do?

.Last February, its former president, Datuk Seri Lim Keng Yaik (photo), expressed lack of confidence in Koh’s ability to take the party out if its decline, and told Gerakan to stop thinking of taking back Penang. He advised the party to return instead to its ideological base of multi-racialism, and play “a more prominent part as the influencing partner in future politics” to move towards that ideological path.

Would it be able to do this within BN? Does it have the clout? Or should it pull out and be on its own? But then, how will it survive? While the MCA as an independent party can still pander to Chinese voters in some constituencies, what kind of voters would an independent Gerakan attract?

Should it join Pakatan Rakyat, which exhibits some semblance of multi-racialism? Or, as Lim hinted, link up with the multi-racial parties in Sabah and Sarawak?

However one looks at it, the future for Gerakan looks uncertain. Even now, time doesn’t seem to be on its side. With talk being rife that the next GE might be called next year, the party will have to get its act together soon and decide which way it’s going.

The question is, does it have the gumption to forget about its past achievements and set a new course? Does it have visionaries with a broader view and a game plan? Or does it merely have self-deluding and effete leaders who can only say sorry when the nasi has already become bubur?
 

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